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Water Challenge - a blog by Peter Brabeck-Letmathe


I hope this blog will create discussion about the important issue of water use and availability around the world.

Your comments and views are very important and I encourage you to help me build and develop the conversation.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Chairman Nestlé SA

Offshore aquifers: global panacea or optimistic prognostication?

“The ultimate origin of water in the Earth’s hydrosphere is in the deep Earth” . This is the conclusion of an international group of researchers, including two scientists from University of Alberta:

“The earth could be a major repository for water.” It may hold as much water as all the planet's oceans combined”, these researchers believe.

Following up on a comment she posted on my blog, I invited Renee Martin-Nagle, a Visiting Scholar at the privately financed Environmental Law Institute in Washington D.C., to write a short guest post on a fascinating new topic: fossil offshore fresh groundwater reserves as a global phenomenon, based on information in a post she originally published in the International Water Law Project Blog in reaction to an article in Nature by another group of researchers.

Thanks to Renee for her views on a complex issue, and an invitation to the readers of my blog to comment from as many different angles as possible.

Drought and groundwater in the Great Plains of North America

Click to download chart (764KB)

People quickly forget when it comes to ‘extreme weather events’. This was one of the main conclusions of the 2014 Great Plains Symposium in Lincoln, Nebraska last week. Forgetting about much more severe droughts of both the near and more distant past, many politicians were quick to label the 2012-13 drought in the farming belt of US Mid-West as the worst in history and to blame climate change for it.

But as research presented at the symposium showed, drought is a normal part of the climate in the Great Plains. And in the past these droughts were much more severe than the most recent one. It should not be too difficult to find information on an at-least-as severe drought in the region in the 1950, and the even longer dry spell of the 1930s, known as the ‘Dust Bowl’ when more than 5,000 Americans died.

Lester Brown on water for food

With Lester Brown, at the World Economic Forum, Davos, 2006

Today, Lester Brown celebrates his 80th birthday. As the founder of the independent Worldwatch Institute, which he set up in 1974, Lester is one of the pioneers of the environmental movement, but one who never lost sight of human needs.

According to Lester, "the biggest threat to global stability is the potential for food crises in poor countries." This quote is from his article “Could food shortages bring down civilisation?” published in 2009 in the Scientific American.

For years now, Lester has been recognised as one of the most influential thinkers about – and beyond – sustainability; you can find an overview on some of the awards and prizes he has received for his outstanding work in his biography.

Securing future water for the Colorado River requires action now

Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs are less than 50% full | © Wikipedia was kind enough to allow us to re-post this text from Matt Niemerski, originally published on their site last month. It shows the need to look at river basins when trying to solve global water issues, and that action is needed now.

A recent piece in the New York Times “Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States” (January 6) paints a dire picture of water scarcity in the Colorado basin, a crisis of supply and demand on an almost continental scale. Last year, the federal government released a report concluding that the region is using more water from the Colorado than the river can sustainably supply; much of it exported out of the river basin. The study estimated that there is a looming gap of 3.4 million acre-feet between what the region needs and what the Colorado River can provide. That’s a shortfall of over 1 trillion gallons.

Conservation-oriented water pricing

The issue of water pricing is often highly politicised and emotional. But, according to the OECD, “anything scarce and in demand commands a price; this is one of the basic principles of economics. Water is scarce in some contexts (drought, degraded quality), so water pricing is increasingly seen as an acceptable instrument of public policy.” Obviously exceptions can and must be made, particularly for the water required for basic human needs which is part of the human right to water and should be treated accordingly.

Below are some of my ideas on conservation-oriented water pricing in the context of other aspects of what we pay when we use water.